Gender Equality Mainstreaming for Business Growth and Impact

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Women are key drivers of economic growth, engaging in business as consumers, employees, leaders, suppliers and community stakeholders. Yet, women are frequently overlooked and underrepresented in the private sector throughout the world. 2017 marked the first year that the Global Gender Gap – an index measuring 144 countries’ gender disparity in health, education, politics and the workplace – worsened since its inception in 2006 (WEF). Recent events like the #MeToo campaign signal a sea change for the world, including the corporate sphere. This is good news, since $28 trillion could be added to annual global GDP by 2025 if women participated in the economy at the same level as men (McKinsey, 2015). Businesses and investors who seek to understand and respond to the barriers women face will be rewarded – both in terms of growth and impact.

The number of gender-specific business opportunities available to companies is virtually limitless. For example, companies are designing products to address women’s needs, such as through the introduction of female crash test dummies in automaker’s safety tests (Medium, 2015). Businesses with at least one female board member generate compound excess returns of 3.5% per annum, as compared to companies with no women on the board (Credit Suisse, 2016). However, female founders receive a paltry USD $1.46 billion compared to $58.2 billion for all-male founder teams (Fortune, 2017) despite the fact that venture capital funds like First Round Capital find female founders’ companies outperform their male counterparts by 63% (HBR, 2017). Managers who choose to ignore gender as a material factor for business growth do so at their own risk.

For many organizations, gender mainstreaming can seem daunting. Often the most difficult part is to begin. To support businesses, investors, funders and capacity builders in exploring how target companies can maximize the returns offered by gender equality, MEDA created the Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework.

The GEM Framework

The Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework is a practical manual and toolkit for assessing gender equality, and identifying, implementing and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies. The framework builds upon the environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment standard by mainstreaming gender across ESG criteria.

Designed for organizations seeking financial and impact returns through investing or providing support to companies, the manual is applicable to a wide range of investors (e.g. private equity funds, government donors, foundations) and capacity builders (e.g. accelerators, technical assistance providers, NGOs). The ultimate aim of the framework is to transform companies to be more gender equitable while supporting business growth and impact.

The GEM self-assessment

Companies seeking to measure their gender performance and identify opportunities for improvement can benefit from taking the GEM self-assessment. Completed by businesses themselves, the GEM self-assessment analyzes a company’s inclusion of women and provides a gender score for each component of ESG. Depending on the score achieved, businesses receive recommendations on ways to mainstream gender in business operations.

What is gender?

We use the term ‘gender’ not ‘women’ because equality can only be achieved through engaging women and men in co-creating the future we seek. Whereas biological sex is determined by genetic and anatomical characteristics, gender is an acquired identity that is learned, changes over time, and varies widely within and across cultures (WEPs, 2011). Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, relationships and expectations of women and men and how these are reinforced by educational, political, economic and cultural systems (SSIR, 2014). These deeply ingrained gender norms, which perpetuate gender inequality, can be broken through engaging men and women in dialogue and collective action. As a result, the GEM Framework supports progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular contributing to Goal 5, Gender Equality.

Questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments, please send an email to Devon at  

References cited

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